Chris Modafferi is an Italian-American who moved to England six years ago to pursue a career in children's publishing. Since moving to the UK, Chris has worked at Toppsta, Penguin Random House, Bloomsbury and Scholastic, and is now a freelance editor and author.
Life as a young editor is a continuous guessing game of "trusting the process". How far should you take an edit? How are you going to manage your relationship with your author/illustrator? What submission should you instinctively know you must publish? Is there such thing as an "editorial instinct" anyway!?
When I decided I wanted to be an editor, the first piece of advice I got was to "fake it till you make it". And, I am not going to lie, I’ve done that. But I've also had support from people who’ve been line managers and then mentors. Without them, I’m not quite sure what trajectory my career would have taken, if I’d still be in editorial… or if I ever would have clawed my way into publishing to begin with!
When you’re new to a role or industry, you spend a lot of time wondering whether you’re doing the right things. But the truth is that, in an ideal world, you should feel free to ask questions and voice your insecurities out loud. You should be getting honest feedback and the guidance you need to become a stronger editor. If you’re not getting this, then it might be time for you to look for a new role. If you’re being made to feel inadequate, uncomfortable, or even mortified in any way, it’s definitely time to look for a new workplace where you will feel supported.
So… how important is your line manager in this equation?
The quick answer to that is: your line manager is HUGELY important. Their job is to build you as a professional, support you in developing new skills, challenge you to take on new responsibilities and sometimes just listen.
Usually if you’re an editor, your line manager will often be your senior commissioning editor, editorial director, or publisher. A professional at that level will have mastered structural editing, line editing, proofreading and will have a fierce knowledge of the market. I can’t really speak for roles outside of editorial, but here’s my two cents on how I believe I should be feeling about the relationship with my line manager...
I feel like they are teaching me everything they know, taking time to think of my strengths and weaknesses, and giving me constructive feedback. Not everyone takes time to go through an edit with you or share their edits, but when they do it really makes a huge difference and can work as a template in your mind for future edits.
I’m encouraged to get behind a book I really believe in. Commissioning is a whole guessing game of its own because you can’t know for sure which books will sell. But your manager should be there to support you in getting behind that book and selling your vision for it at an acquisitions meeting. They’re taking time to brainstorm with you, do some market research, or at least to steer you in the right direction. Your manager will also be honest if they don’t think a submission is quite right for the list, and give you clear reasons why so you understand their editorial direction.
I’m encouraged to make time for people on other teams. If you’re an editor, your work relationships matter just as much as those outside of the office. You’re the person to galvanise a whole set of people, sharing your enthusiasm for a book and making sure Sales, Marketing and Publicity see what makes it special. Taking time to build these relationships is a huge part of your professional life, and your manager understands this.
We’re going on bookshop trips together. This can’t happen for the time being for obvious reasons (thanks, Covid), but you can definitely work your way around it. My manager, Fiz Osborne, and I catch-up every week or so to brainstorm new ideas, talk about the market and share our latest finds across social media. I think of these moments as time for me to absorb all her market knowledge.
And finally, we’re having fun. Fiz and I laugh a LOT. We recently got creative together and decided to share our jobs with anyone who might be interested, by starting our very own Instagram account! Shameless plug here, but you can follow us here if you’d like to get a behind-the-scenes look into how we make picture books.
If you’re not getting all or any of the above, do not despair. Maybe you’re just not in the right place to flourish. Maybe it’s time to look around. But I absolutely promise you that things will get better.
When you next have an interview, think about these five points and feel free to ask your potential manager what their management style is like, what you can expect from your first six months in the role and what goals they’d set for you to achieve. Trust your instinct and remember you are worth it.